Sunday, September 24, 2017

Chop to Pieces, Rinse, Repeat

As is usual these days, woke very early with "Shit, no!" on my mind. Immediately understood the source of this particular unrest: Telamon's order to Ajax comes way too early. T orders A to do a kind-of-terrible thing, then life goes on as normal for a while? I don't think so. That order must come as part of the avalanche (that word is an exaggeration, but not by much) of thwarts and insults meant to trim A's sails; deflate his confidence and rising power.

Sigh. Okay then. Start coffee, check if the mouse has given up and gone away, then sharpen the hatchet yet again. Take a break to feed horses and check on things outside. Rinse and repeat.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Which is Greek For ....

Two 'characters' - one animate, one perhaps not - have been hanging around bothering me, but I don't know who or what they 'really' are, why they're there at all, and what I'm supposed to do with them.

Hah! Now I know. And one of them explains the other.

Which is Mycenaean Greek for, "It's about fucking damned time, thank you very much!"

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Chop, Glue, Repeat

Ajax and I have been stuck for what feels like eons, because of our shared discontent at ordinariness. But now that The Good Kinsman is in my editor's hands and I can't do much until he gets the entire thing back to me, it's time.

Spent many happy hours with the first 100+ pages, cutting and pasting and shifting and 'why?'ing, finally have a rough - don't know what to call it, not an outline, those are all tidy, with numbers and stuff - order in which all those things have to happen - a separate doc that would be totally inexplicable and annoying to anyone else. Kind of like...

...but with a lot more fingerprints, coffee stains, and dog hair. Not to mention a haunted sword (no, please, not the YA way you're thinking of), an unexplained rune painted on his forehead, and a wretched old man he keeps thinking he should remember, but nothing comes. Plus ship borrowing, sword casting, spear training, getting married, bringing the island council to heel, and defying his mother.

That diagram might need a second page taped sloppily at the bottom.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


Every time I review the section in which Akhaides seduces Philaios, I find my jaw tightening and then find myself - yet again - saying aloud, "Don't! No you dumbass, don't fall for it! I can't believe you ... Oh, you're gonna be SO sorry!"

I'm never uncritically infatuated by my own work, so I take this as a good sign.
Well, maybe not for Philaios...

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Nearing the Finish Line, Pitchfork in Hand

Spent about 30 solid hours re-editing 134,109 words of #4, "Kinsman." And on returning it to my redoubtable editor, Michael, I commented, "Unlike, I believe, many people, I am nearly always delighted to find myself wrong about something, the more thoroughly wrong, the better and more amusing.

"That admitted, I must have all the more reason to be happy today. I truly, deeply, and sulkily thought that this was finished, there was nothing important to look at again, what a waste of time and blah, blah blah.

"Well. Wrong again; gilded, bejeweled, and stunned-almost-silent wrong.

"All best from the nosebleed seats and no kidding 30-hours-in-2.5-days later,
There! All better!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Writing Fighting (Which of You Guys Isn't Busy Right Now?)

At the battle on Telegraph Hill, Robert E. Lee supposedly commented to James Longstreet, "It is well that war is so terrible – otherwise we would grow too fond of it."

I  have not a single moment's experience of any kind of physical fighting, I can use a gun but never shot anybody. Never hit anyone very hard.

Even so, I find writing individual fights and larger group battles exhilarating.

It's all in the choreography. Monique taught me that, when writing any kind of physical interaction between characters, is is essential to get up and perform it - away from the keyboard, in the round even though only in my study or living room. One can't do that with an actual multi-party battle, but even so it is SO much fun to lay it out step by step, keeping track of every person or group, keeping them all busy at once, making them work in a kind of harmony.

I have rarely had as much fun as I did in writing the battle at Rhion. There were moments when I realized that somebody had to do a particular thing. Okay then, I cast back: who is still alive and nearby? What did he just do? Is he available to do this now? Would he do this? And then, how does he do it?

 Sad to say, most writers (especially HF for some reason) purposely claim on behalf of their characters that a battle goes by in a blur. Sorry, but if an armed and armored warrior can't see very clearly what's going on around him, he will not survive that chapter, let alone the rest of the book. And if a writer is THAT lazy, I don't want to encourage his half-assed-ness by paying for his book.

There is just about no excuse for a writer not to know (meaning not to bother to learn) how weapons are handled and how they work...Not just in art, like the pot above, either; many of those were drawn for drama rather than accuracy.

Learning about this used to be difficult, but so what? There is no excuse. It's the writer's job to know what s/he is writing about. And these days it's dead easy to learn. That's why God gave us YouTube!
Here is just one link.

Beware, as always, of videos that show all the same trite errors as bad HF writers, TV and movies, and re-enacters make.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Drinking With Chiron

The old man says, “Drink this.”
I never questioned him before, when both of us were younger; me in my final sprout of youth and first bud of manhood, he in his pride and his prime. I don’t question him now, but see nothing here to drink, just bare uneven shelves chopped into a wall of unworked stone, even those hardly visible in this dim sourceless light.
His front hoof – he always used the left one first – raps and slides on the rough rock floor.
I curve my hands and fit them together. There is nothing in them, and then they are full. The drink feels neither cool nor warm. I see nothing, just bear its weight. I smell nothing, not water, not tea, not mead, not wine.
He doesn’t have to repeat the order. I raise my hands, fit my lower lip and the tip of my tongue into the vee of the joined heels, and tilt it up. A shallow eddy flows in. I tip my hands away, close my lips and swallow. It tingles like vinegar would, all the way down.
I am not breathing, so taste nothing. Lift the hands again, admit a trickle, swallow. Swallow. Swallow again. Swallow again.
I hold a final trickle in the cup of my tongue until enough collects that it can be swallowed. Licking the creases of your palms for the last of a drink is vulgar. I just lower my hands and open them. Don’t even shake them clean, as one would with any other drink. Run my tongue around the inside of my lips, top and bottom. Swallow.
He says, “Good.” The strongest praise he ever gave.

Sunday, August 6, 2017


Truly, I could continue to dither and fiddle for months, but what's the point? The only one who would notice any of the miniscule adjustments I still feel compelled to make is me. My editor, Michael, has heartily approved #1, and I sent proof copies of 2 and 3 to him on Friday. With his okay, and with any final-final adjustments he might suggest, I will kick the baby birds out of the nest at last.

Yes, yes, yes, I really will. Yes, really.

Michael has #4 to edit, so it will be a couple of months before it is ready for the wide world. But in the meantime, there will be .....

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Junger On Soldiers and 'Success'

In the wonderful book "War," Sebastian Junger vividly explicates the differences between soldiers who succeed on base and in the Pentagon, and those that succeed in the field. At the most basic, those who fight well and stay alive tend to not give a crap about tidy bootlaces and tucked-in shirttails.

Understand, these soldiers don't succeed because they are untidy, annoying, and contemptuous of authority. They succeed because they are untidy, annoying, contemptuous of authority, ferocious, sarcastic, clear-eyed, fiercely loyal to one another, and totally willing to shoot other people if and when necessary. It's a package thing.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

We Are Rolling?

There have been other times recently when I felt like, yes, things were in motion. The story was being told. Pages were adding up. Stuff was happening.

Each time, the energy sooner or later wandered off, twiddling its thumbs with boredom.

One of the last things that Monique said to me was, "You have to let it do what it wants to do. That's the only way it can come to life."

This has always meant that, whatever I thought the plan was, I'm going to have to let it slip its leash and then just trundle along after it, cleaning up as I go. This means, for a writer, that every time any  character does something that wasn't in the script, the entire script that came before needs to be tweaked to make it fit.Foreshadowing as afterthought. Buildup as cleanup.

The reward, however, is a story that's actually alive. And in the last few days, Aias has continually done things that I absolutely did not expect. So the cleaning up has been extensive, but totally worth it.

Monday, June 5, 2017

I Am Not a Lawyer And...

...  I don't even play one on TV.

Nevertheless, I have long, long been aware that if I am going to include brief quotations from various people at the heads of chapters, I should gracefully and officially note those quotes, lest someone object and sue me.

Lucky for me, Word includes a reference tab. I fiddled with references and footnotes, and finally settled on using endnotes, which would be the least obtrusive, and let me assemble all the notes on a single page following the entire text. See?

You will learn; you will all learn. But not from me.[i]
— John Gardner

This is the opening quote for volume one, The Hostage. It sits all alone on its very own page, after the dedications page and before page one of the actual story. And on the final page of the entire book, is:

[1] Gardner, John. Grendel. Alfred A Knopf, 1971.

Simple, unobtrusive, and I dare say, elegant.

 Then, after more than a few clumsy experiments and with thanks to the internet for hunting the quotes down (especially Goodreads, which often includes the sources of quotes, which most quotation sites don't), I was able to relocate and cite the immediate sources of all 15 quotes except two. For those, I cheated by citing one of the authors' books that the title implied MIGHT be where the quote could be found.

And this whole process, from learning to formatting to fiddling to completion, took only about 3.5 hours including pouring and reheating coffee, and writing this blog entry.

SO glad that I am no longer an academic!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Draft Book Cover

I can't even tell you have many hours it took to get that picture on the cover, but it's finally there.

Michael, my editor, doesn't like the back-cover blurb,so we'll work on it when he returns from vacation. I think I favor K S R Berck for the author name, and it will fit on the edge without vanishing at the end.

Otherwise, I like it a lot, and the same style will work for all four volumes.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Art and Applied Geometry

I have spent at least 25 hours of this past week or so formatting The Hostage for CreateSpace.

It was (still is) intensely fiddly work:
Most obvious, I exchanged the save-a-space 'Chapter One, Chapter Two' etcetera for Mycenaean numerals (thank you, my friends, for doing your math in base 10, and using simple geometric shapes rather than pictographs).

 Found and corrected scores of formatting errors, such as tabs instead of indents, and indents that offset headings and time breaks that were meant to be centered.

Assured that internal breaks would not fall at the tops of any pages, so that before leafing over, the reader is warned that we are doing a time or place jump.

Experimented extensively with font, pitch, line spacing, and margins, adjusting for enough but not too much white space so that a page doesn't present itself as solid type, but also doesn't look fluffed; like it's trying to be more than it is. At 6X9 overall page size and 11 pitch, the book settles at 313 pages total, 307 of actual text. At 5.5 X 8.25, it is 355 pages, and that is still 32 lines of text per page, which is within the average. Most self-published books, I learned yesterday, run far closer to 200 pages, while most traditionally published books run from the high 200s and up. So this book can keep company with the grownups. All of this noted, I don't much like an overall size smaller than 6X9, because then the pitch has to be 10 which looks tiny on the screen, although on a book page it might be fine.

Asleep yet?

And an hour ago, of course, I finally understood how important gutters are and how I have to design them myself. And how to mirror pages in Word. So a whole lot of - okay, let's call it fun - messing with trying to keep the text page count above 300 while not running the inner margin into the dark, or making it look like a children's book.

And just now, oh shit, justification.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

And the Funny Part is ....

The first part that I wrote of this saga, in a hot burst that I have never regretted, or even had to edit much, was an anecdote about a hunter who kills a family of wild dogs that prey on his goats, but saves a puppy or two that he raises and trains to protect his goats and hunt wild dogs. The conclusion is:

"A tool is what it is. The moment it’s created, it’s what it was meant to be. But you’re not innocent of the deeds you perform just because Fate chose them. It chooses you, chooses the deeds, chooses the guilt, and that’s it. There’s a reason we kill the sons when we kill the fathers."

And what is this whole story about, if not that?

I knew this years ago. Now it's time to make it work

As If!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Cover Draft

Amazon's Createspace is clever, but extremely bossy and strict. Took five hours (!!) to get that axe on the draft cover. But I think it's sort of overall pretty damned cool.

PS - Yeah, the back cover blurb is not so good. Already have a new draft ready to post when Amazon frees it up again: no reason to mention the Bronze Age nor Mycenae - 

"In the sleet-blown winter of 1107 BC, an untouchable outlaw returns to Greece. His only desire is to bury the bodies of his brothers, whom he murdered forty years before, whether or not that act will win him redemption. But the only survivor of the slaughter, two compelling kings, two women who understand men far too well, and the Great Serpent of Delphi have other plans."

Sadly - but not really - my inestimable editor doesn't like the blurb and is now on his way to two weeks in Andalusia, so I'll have to wait for his (probably far better) suggestions.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

At a Dead End. This Time, THE Dead End

Thank you, thank you, to the impulse that made me save the MS that I thought was hopeless more than two years ago. Since then I have labored diligently to bring a new, improved version to life, only to trip over it again and again as it lay near-lifeless in my path.

No, you can't revive manuscripts like this, either
Half an hour ago, I dug the old corpse out of the archive and yes, yes, yes. This is what was meant all along. Even as I zoomed through it on screen, just catching the gist, I could hear a sudden hard intake of breath somewhere nearby.

Ajax is alive after all.